Friday, May 31, 2019

Quality in Motion: What it's like to get a full custom costume

Have you ever wanted a custom costume? Something made just for you for a special program? Designed, and beaded  to accompany the music, showing off your best skills, and with colors, cut, and material just for you, as if you’re an elite skater?

Of course you have. Everyone looks at the costumes in the Olympics and thinks ‘I wish I had that one.’  So, I interviewed the new owners of Del Arbor (Rushdah & Mustafa ) about the process of developing and designing a full custom costume from scratch.

Rushdah & Mustafa

They have lovely  off the rack costumes, and have introduced  simpler costumes in their new FIRST GLIDE line, but they also create one of a kind costumes for customers, including elite skaters. Here's what it's like to have a custom costume made for you.

It starts with the music.

The music gives the designers the concepts of the rhythm and flow the costume will need. Also the theme of the music and the lyrics may even influence the design.  Del Arbour  also keeps up with the latest changes in requirements for costumes since they do change.  (Does anyone remember the several costume scandals in ’89 – including the naughty Alexander Fadeev one? ) Del Arbour stays on top of changes in the rules to make sure that doesn’t happen with the costumes they make.

Accompanying the costume order will need to be a full frontal and full back photo, and notes from the skater regarding comfort (do you like it tight, or low cut, or more relaxed?) and how much sparkle they prefer.  ( I made a comment about Johnny Weir liking Swarovski Crystal AB, and was told that not only did Del Arbor exclusively use Swarovski, but they use the AB Crystal in almost every design due to its superior reflectivity and iridescence.)

 The skater’s coach may put in suggestions for a younger skater; for an elite skater both the coach and choreographer may make suggestions. I suspect some adult skaters with experience and a distinct sense of personal style may want to work with the designers directly, but to me that spoils the fun of working with a team of skater-coach-designer.

I was curious about color selection since I had some ideas about the effect on the dress color by rink lights, but I was wrong! I was told that the overwhelming effect is  the ice itself and its reflectivity really makes the most difference. The ice overwhelms everything and the costume color has to be a strong contrast to the ice. There are some colors that don’t work well: white and certain shades of yellow, and pastels can wash out the skater, and look faded on the ice. (What looks good on a skater in close-ups on TV, probably isn’t the same thing as looking good to the judges at a distance at speed).

But in addition to the costume’s color there is the variety of shades of the illusion mesh. Del Arbour has 10 shades of illusion mesh, and sends swatches to the skater to test on the ice, so their coach can help them select a color that closest matches their skin tone under the glare of the lights on the ice. Del Arbor also sends swatches of the costume fabrics to aid in selections. As this process goes on Del Arbor builds a database on the skater's needs, sizing , and preferences for the future.

During all this time, Del Arbor designers are creating sketches by hand to capture the critical movement and flow of the performance.  The sketches go back and forth to the skater and the coach (and the choreographer if one is involved) until final approval.  And at the point, the design is agreed upon, the fabric is approved by the coach-skater team, the illusion mesh is selected to match the skater’s body, the crystals and their pattern, the sizing, everything is ready to go. And then Del Arbor begins to construct the costume in their work shop in Milford, CT.

I said ‘construct’ the costume, not ‘sew’ the costume because with the demands placed upon the costumes by the athletics of skating, the costume must stand up to repeated use in practices, programs, and do so without showing wear, or having ‘a wardrobe malfunction’.  The costume is made of high quality 4 way stretch fabric that stretches to 3 times its size. Every single piece is lined with three layers –mesh, tricot, and flesh tone lining. They also use metal hook and eye rather than plastic ones.  This  process is so incredibly reliable that Del Arbor has had daughters compete in costumes their mothers competed in!

After the dress is completed, it goes through a rigorous final quality finishing check.Checking all the beading, the seams and the edging; double checking for missed stitches to ensure there will be no rips during a performance. This costume is designed and constructed for many wears, even to survive the number of wears required for an entire elite season!
Quality finishing

Del Arbor  wants every client to feel that special thrill once that package arrives. They call it "the Del Arbour experience." The garment is packaged in tissue to keep wrinkles from forming, then the box is tied with ribbon & a card is included to provide a personal note to the skater.

 When the skater receives the costume, any minor changes are easily taken care of because the workshop is in the USA.  No waiting for something shipped from overseas. Quick response is part of the company's mission.

And the nice thing about Del Arbour dresses, is that if you buy one of their dresses second hand at a sale, you can send it to them for refurbishment, change of skirt or the underpants, or to get it gently resized.  As long as it has the Del Arbor label in it, it doesn’t matter who its original owner was. Therefore, make sure that label is in the dress. You might find it's worth 10-20% more than you thought!

As the new owners look ahead, they're planning on expanding the line to gymnastics, sport dance, practice wear, and lifestyle. Head to toe for the person who is always in motion!

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